Posts filed under Spiritual Life

Why I Don't Swear Online {or Anywhere}

A long time ago, in a galaxy far away (okay, about 20 years ago or so), I had a potty mouth. Unashamed and completely habituated to vulgar and stupid speech, I spewed garbage like a trucker... or... like a typical secular youth. 

I was 10 years old the first time I intentionally swore and tried out my new edgy style on some young friends during a family visit. They had always known me to be quiet, shy, and well-behaved so they were a bit shocked; which, of course, was the intended affect.

My bad language progressed from an occasional and purposeful dart thrown at the unsuspecting, to normal, habitual use which too easily replaced decent descriptive language. It was an easy transition to make; first, because it was easier than using more intelligent language and second, because my peer culture was awash in filth and indecency. My choice of words went hand in hand with a descent into the moral decay of secular American youth. 

Fast forward to my young adult metanoia when I gave my mind, body, and soul to Jesus Christ. It was the first time in my life that I really understood, believed, and lived my Catholic faith. I felt free for the first time, alive, and completely consumed by Christ-fire. As the scales fell from my eyes and my heart burned with a convert's passion, I began to throw off the old to put on the new.

In that honeymoon stage of new faith, I was blessed with the gift of clarity about where in my life I had offended God and harmed myself and others. The Holy Spirit acted powerfully on my starving heart and busted open the door as soon as I gave my tiny yes. I went to bed hungry for that Divine Love and rose in the morning alive to His presence. The grace of conversion is powerful! And so, the scales and filth and worldly weights began to fall away quickly...

My defense of abortion fell.
My hatred of the Church fell.
My habitual lying fell.
My blindness to mortal sin fell.
My worldly view of myself and others fell.

I often wish I could go back to that convert honeymoon because it was intensely beautiful... like seeing the sun for the very first time after years underground. Painful yet exquisite. I am grateful to still have a recollection of that time to inspire me to keep my eye on the prize of heaven. True freedom, peace, and joy wait for me there.

But it was a daily struggle to chop away at the old habits and chains and to uncover who I was really made to be. One area that was obviously a problem was my speech habits. No one said "You have to do this to be a good Catholic." It was just something that I knew I had to do for Christ and for my own soul. I became more attentive to my words around my new Christian friends and realized that my crass habits did not match the change that was happening inside. I wanted to honor God, myself, and those who had to politely listen to me. 

‘But now lay you also all away: anger, indignation, malice, blasphemy, filthy talk out of your mouth.’
— Colossians 3:8

So my tongue got a scrubbing...

First, no more OMG.
I no longer dropped God's name into a conversation as if it were a meaningless exclamation point. I kicked this careless phrase to the curb even before I stopped using profanity because it made immediate sense. Besides the super obvious 3rd Commandment, I was falling in love with Him. That relationship made me sensitive to the living beauty His name. At the same time, a holy priest taught me to pray in reparation each time I heard the name of God used carelessly by anyone (including myself): "Lord, have mercy." I was able to replace a bad habit with a good one and that made the transition much easier. (Read more here: Stopping OMG)

Next, no more filthy mouth.
Did my speech reflect what was going on in my soul? How did it impact my witness to others? How did it express my love of Christ? There was no question for me that this change needed to happen but it was one of the hardest daily changes to make. I had trained myself to use those words. They were as common as "hello," "goodbye," and "Taco Bell" on my youthful tongue. I had thought them, whispered them, wrote them, laughed them, screamed them for many years. And after all that, I fought sentence by sentence to purge it all and reclaim my speech for Christ.

Not at all easy. 

Language continues to be a struggle for me. In my stressful moments, certain words march to my tongue like a rebellious mob. I don't get anxious about it... I don't think I'm going to get struck down by a lightening bolt for a misstep... but I am careful to keep them reigned in. On the whole, I have conquered the tendency to slip into that aspect of my old life... into vulgarity that simply isn't consistent with the freedom and joy to which Christ has called me. But it will probably be a lifelong battle.

‘A dispersed and dissipated intellect given to frivolous talk and foul language produces many vices and sins.’
— St. John Damascene

Fortunately, the written word is far easier to control than the spoken word. I have time before I hit publish or send to make a better choice. I have not always taken that moment but I almost always have, and I take care to nourish the desire that keeps me in the fight. 

When I'm writing on this blog or on social media, I am often tempted to use those purged words. It would be SO easy... especially when I want to add strong emphasis... or to appeal to the current trend of edgy cool Catholic moms. But I'm not edgy or cool by nature or by conversion and it more consistent with my personal vocation to abstain from low speech.

It's a matter of courtesy which is an extension of charity.
Of femininity and gentleness, which is so rare.
Of respect for God and for others.  
Of disciplining a tongue that easily harms.
All things which I struggled to understand and learn during my conversion and beyond.

I understand the attraction to writers who are "real" and gritty. It is not always easy to connect with those who seem out of touch, too holy, put-together, or seem uptight and we gravitate to those who don't intimidate or frustrate in those ways. But I am not obligated to please readers, only Christ. 

For me, that means I will never drop an F-bomb on this site. Because even though it might pop up unbidden in my mind, my "real" is that I don't want to swear. My "real" is that I am often ugly on the inside but still fight to keep it reigned it. The most authentic thing I can give you right now is this:

Sometimes I want to swear and I choose not to. That's it. That is who I am. 

This is not a judgment against other bloggers or people you know online. I am not the arbiter of who should and shouldn't swear in the context of their public witness. But this small practice has helped me focus on Christ, grow in virtue, and mature in practical ways; and I enthusiastically recommend it to others as a fruitful discipline. 

I feel in many ways that I am less of a Christian than I was those 20 years ago. The fire seems to die as quickly as it is reignited and it seems like I have to fight harder for virtue even in the little things. But it is often these little things which help remind me of where I have been and where I long to be. I am so often tired. I am so often tempted to bitterness. I often feel old-ish and entitled to my worldly habits.

But He calls me back to innocence. And I will try. 

“I assure you, unless you change and become like little children, you will not enter the kingdom of God.”
— Matthew 18:2
Posted on November 10, 2016 and filed under culture, Faith, Spiritual Life, Womanhood.

How the Love of Another Man Pushed Me Into My Husband's Arms

  Photo courtesy of the beautiful Jeannette Ayoob-Urban

Photo courtesy of the beautiful Jeannette Ayoob-Urban

The man stood alone among over 50 women, speaking to them about their own womanhood...

Imagine a weekend retreat with all those women women attending with only that one man, a priest, to dilute the beautiful conflagration of estrogen. I was there and it was awesome. The positive feminine energy was a wonderful balm for my soul. So many "little mothers" to nurture and support!  And oh yes, the healing tears flowed.

Yet as much as I acknowledge the unique role that women play for each other in life (indispensable, really), I also returned home with a renewed appreciation for the role of men in how we come to see ourselves as women... and how we learn to draw closer to Christ through their steady witness.

It doesn't seem like it should have worked out well at all; a lone man speaking about womanhood and motherhood to a bunch of women (mostly mothers) who have 100% more life experience as females than he! But Father's words were more powerful for me than those of any woman I have ever heard speak. They challenged and pierced and illuminated the treasure of my femininity in a new way. And there's a growing part of me (not the former strident feminist part) that marvels and wonders what it is about a man that has the unique power to do just that. 

This experience of masculine speaking to feminine about the feminine was marvelous and unlike some male Catholic speakers who try to understand the "feminine genius" through their masculine lens and misapplication of JPII's marvelous Theology of the Body

I have taken the whole experience apart in my mind a dozen times since I've been home. Without analyzing too much, here are a few points I've been pondering... 

  • The complementarity of man and woman goes well beyond the sexual and does not even need a sexual context or metaphor to be true and powerful. We have been given to each other in service by God and we have been made for each other. The sexual context is singular to the married vocation. I am only married to one man... and yet that complementarity with all other men still exists in a completely beautiful and non-sexual context. I am a bride. I am also physical and spiritual daughter, sister, and mother to many.
  • The priest is consecrated and celibate but still fully male. His masculine gifts put him in a position to lead woman but also to be upheld by her. It is why we kneel for a blessing before him and why he clings to Mary and is upheld by the Spiritual Motherhood which is so honored by the Church.

  • The authentic words of affirmation and confidence given by a man have a powerful impact on a woman... perhaps even more so than another woman can give. As Pope Saint John Paul II said so perfectly:

    "God has assigned as a duty to every man the dignity of every woman." 

Father's priestly counsel pierced my feminine heart all weekend. I was impacted not only by his words through his priestly office, but also by who he was as a person.  And my appreciation grew, not as a fangirl but as a spiritual daughter/sister being led to greatness in Christ. When he looked at us women and told us that we were beautiful in who we are and within the context of our vocation, I believed him; but instead of being drawn to his side, my desire for home steadily ignited. 

  Fr. Nathan Cromley {Photo courtesy of  Jayme Orn Photography }

Fr. Nathan Cromley {Photo courtesy of Jayme Orn Photography}

That is what every man should do for every woman... Point her to vocation, to her greatness, to her spouse, to her Lord. That is what every woman should do for every man... Show him his capacity for greatness in Christ at home and in the world.

The nearer Father led us to Christ, the stronger that desire grew until it was a flame that became a blazing fire. I was enjoying the retreat and yet I longed to see my husband. To serve him. To be held by him. And a repeated daydream (that also became a dream during sleep) took hold of me there...

I imagined that my husband and I were holding hands and walking up the center aisle of the chapel toward our Eucharistic Lord exposed in the monstrance. And when we arrived in front of Jesus, we knelt together and received His blessing.

It was a physical longing and gripped me so tightly that it surprised me. 

Each time I heard my spiritual Father speak, that desire for my both my husband and my God increased. One man leading me closer to another man, my spouse... through Christ.

Many words have been written about the need in our Church for manly priests; men who not only understand their priestly identity but who understand it in the context of their masculine nature. It is not just an exercise in pastoral speculation... But a true need.

I not only reject the idea of women priests from a theological standpoint but also from a natural one. We need these men, these soul lovers who have taken up the cross of service for our salvation. We need not just what they do but who they are. Their masculinity is a gift that we cannot set aside as some random assignment of biological pieces. 

A woman needs men who will look into her eyes with their strong, confident, gentle love... and communicate to her the matter of her dignity. It is often said that culture will be restored by the heart, the woman. But...

Woman needs man to lead and to teach her through his words and love about her own dignity.
Man needs woman to support him as he carries his cross in the world.
He finds his own dignity and home in the heart of the feminine.
She finds her fortress and fire in the masculine.

It is my fervent prayer that the men of the Church will learn the significance of that role and take it up. Oh, how they could change the world! They are inclined to take it by might and sheer effort but do not know their own potential as soul-lovers.

I left the retreat a little early and went home late Saturday night, missing the two remaining hours on Sunday morning. I wanted to stay and continue to drink deeply from the retreat experience but I also wanted to be able to go to Mass with my family, to be able to sleep a little more deeply (even a quiet retreat stretched my physical limits during this pregnancy), and to hold my littlest girl who was missing her mommy. But mostly...

I wanted to see my husband.

He texted me a response to my invitation saying: "Whatever you want to do is fine. Stay as long as you like. If you want me to come early, I will." I replied:

"Come and get me!"

... and I felt like a school girl while I waited. I also felt a little like a young bride waiting to see my groom before our our nuptial Mass. My eyes filled with tears when he walked through the door. He got bonus points for the roses that he brought me (husbands, take note!) but I would have rejoiced regardless.

After we arrived home, we imprudently but joyfully stayed up with the children until 1:00 am just being together before family prayers. My toddler fell asleep curled up on my lap and I fell asleep on the couch so quickly that I didn't even kiss my spouse goodnight.

It's not a story of glamorous romance. We are messy, we are weak, and we are broken... And we fall asleep when we don't mean to.

But the more attentive I am to my Lord, the more my heart is drawn to my home. And sometimes, it takes another man to remind me that to be fully who I am in Christ means to draw closer, not to the activity of my vocation, but to the souls with whom I have been entrusted.

The last time I went on retreat (over 11 years ago), I came home ready to change my husband... to form him more perfectly to my (stunted) vision of holy. That was partially (or largely) my immaturity and partially the questionable direction from the priest who essentially told me that my apostolic work was more important than the heart of my husband. And... it was kind of a disaster. I disrespected the treasure that my faithful, prayerful, hard-working, generous, amazing man that my husband always has been. I don't know if he was nervous about my return home this time (he was nothing but encouraging) but he would certainly have been justified! This time however, Father said something (among many things of value) that helped me correct that former error:

Jesus doesn't need new ministries, He needs lovers.

Instead of coming home with an agenda, I came home with a gentle fire. Instead of coming home to make changes to my family members, I came home to love them. Instead of coming home with a list and a massive plan, I came home with the courage to just begin again in steady charity. I also came home with a dozen red roses and a renewed appreciation for the irreplaceable role of the masculine presence in the feminine life. 

To any men reading...

Please lead the women in your life to Christ. Love them, give them courage by your own example, forgive them, make sure they have what they need to be well, and help them see their own beauty and dignity. 

To the women...

Let them. And then serve them with faithfulness, confidence, mercy, and joy. For those who suffer in that holy work, I share a few more of Father's words:

“When your heart is pierced, when your tears flow... Blessed be God! There aren’t enough tears in the world.”

To my husband...

I have no words for the gift that you have always been and continue to be in my life. You married a bratty teenager and you've loved and nurtured her into the woman that I am. Full of weakness and holes and sinfulness, yes... but also so happy. You have poured yourself out to give me life, hope, joy, and Jesus. You have tempered my wayward estrogen with the gentle strength. You have served even when there was no obvious return on the investment. Twenty years ago, you were the one who answered my questions about Christ and then set about to show me... and you are still leading. What all that means to me is inexpressible and touches an intimate part of my soul that knows no adequate expression. But I thank you. And I renew my commitment to our Christ-centered eternal love. 

Thanks be to God!

“Allow yourselves to hunger... Fall in love with Jesus.” {Fr. Nathan Cromly}
 We are fast approaching our 20th wedding anniversary. May Blessed Mother continue to lead us united to her Son.

We are fast approaching our 20th wedding anniversary. May Blessed Mother continue to lead us united to her Son.

 Retreat jewelry craft led by artist  Andrea Singarella . Roses from my husband. Name tag from the  Arise retreat.

Retreat jewelry craft led by artist Andrea Singarella. Roses from my husband. Name tag from the Arise retreat.

 Photo of the attendees of the Arise Retreat. Over 50 amazing women... and one Fr. Nathan. { Photo courtesy of  Jayme Orn Photography } My deepest gratitude to  Brooke Taylor  for running with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to make this event happen and to every woman there who said yes to that same Spirit by attending. 

Photo of the attendees of the Arise Retreat. Over 50 amazing women... and one Fr. Nathan. {Photo courtesy of Jayme Orn Photography} My deepest gratitude to Brooke Taylor for running with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to make this event happen and to every woman there who said yes to that same Spirit by attending. 

  Photo of our walking Rosary courtesy of  Jayme Orn Photography

Photo of our walking Rosary courtesy of Jayme Orn Photography

Posted on March 16, 2016 and filed under Faith, Marriage, Spiritual Life, Womanhood.

How to forgive anyone...

When you look at me, who do you see? Do you see the woman God made me to be or the broken sinner bent on thwarting His beautiful plan?

When you look at me, what do you feel? Do you feel gratitude for how He has worked in my life? Or do you feel the pain that I have caused you with my words and actions?

Does it have to be one or the other? Can we see both... looking through the scars and woundedness to a place of innocence and joy?

You see me as I am now. As I present myself to you. As I hurt you or comfort you, show my face or hide my heart. But do you see me as I was meant to be? And will you call me forth to come into my own?

If you struggle with forgiveness, I can offer you a way to find it... an opportunity to uncover that place in your heart that can't fight mercy. It's a little exercise. I can't promise it will work. I can promise you that God will work... even if you can't feel it yet...

Find a photograph of the one you wish to forgive. Not just any photograph but a very early one... or maybe two or three if you can manage. One of infancy, another of toddlerhood, perhaps another at about 3 or 4 years of age. Baptismal photos are good or on of being held in the mother's arms. If you do not have an actual picture, imagine a small child. If you do not think in images, find a picture of an unknown infant and imagine that the child in the photo is the one you are trying to see.

Now close your eyes and pray. Beg the Lord to help you SEE. Beg Him to help you have COMPASSION. And MERCY. Ask the Holy Spirit to flood your mind and soul and vision... that you  may only see now through God's eyes. And that you may be able to forgive.

Open your eyes and examine the pictures before you. Imagine holding that infant. Look into the eyes of the child and SEE the innocence and the beautiful plan that God intended. Think like a mother. Think of all of the hopes and dreams that you would have for such a little person. See the little one smiling up to you and reaching. See baby fall... and the tears... and running to dry them and kiss them away.

God's baby. God's little one. At this moment, that little heart is in your hands. Now, even if you don't feel it, Say out loud:

You are His beautiful child and I forgive you for His sake. 

I have done this a few times. All times but one it was an accidental (providential) moment. Once, I was sent a childhood photograph by a person who had hurt me. Perhaps she knew me well enough to know the effect it would have. It was her First Holy Communion portrait and her eyes were shining with a beautiful innocent joy. I could SEE her for the first time and all bitterness left my heart. Forgiveness does not always mean reconciliation but it is still necessary. There is still brokenness. There is still division. But I cannot see the radiant face of God's little girl and withhold my forgiveness. The image from that photograph has not left me.

I found a picture of my own childhood one day and really looked for the first time. And I wept at what I saw because I saw what I thought was lost. Then I knew that God still sees and loves and forgives His little girl. He always has the face of my innocence before Him.

We ought to do this for each other. We should continually see each other through the Father's eyes and recall each other to our purpose... to the image in which we were made. We should practice seeing what may be hidden and calling out to the little soul in hiding.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta habitually saw our Lord in every person. I am not so good as that. The mother in me sometimes needs to start with a baby picture.

Originally posted in 2011

Posted on February 17, 2016 and filed under Faith, Spiritual Life, Womanhood.